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HIBC or GS1- Which Way Should We Go?

There’s been an ongoing debate regarding two barcode systems for medical products, HIBC and GTIN from GS1. There’s a school of thought that the industry needs to standardize on one system. But which option is better? And do we really need to pick just one?

HIBC (Health Industry Bar Code) was created in 1983 as a way to track data via bar codes and has been the method of choice for creating barcodes and tracking medical and pharmaceutical products for many years. Healthcare products need to be treated differently than consumer products since human safety requirements apply and they are monitored by the government. Labels for patient use must be error-free, and must contain specific, required information. HIBC meets the unique needs of the healthcare and medical manufacturing industries.

GS1 is an international, non-profit association that develops and implements global standards and solutions to improve supply chain management for all sectors. GS1 developed GTIN, or Global Trade Item Number, as the unique identification number on a product. GTIN ensures that every variation of a product is allocated a single reference number that is globally unique. Another GS1 identification number, GLN or Global Location Number, identifies physical locations, such as place of departure, place of delivery, and point of storage, adding security and sustainability which is so important when dealing with pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

While HIBC focuses on the healthcare industry, the GS1 standards are used across many different industries, including retail, healthcare, transport and logistics, consumer electronics, defense and collaboration.

Most in the healthcare industry agree that having two different barcoding systems is not efficient, but the more difficult task is selecting one option as the standard. The Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management supports GS1 and is asking for the industry to implement its Global Location Number standards by December 31, 2010 and the Global Trade Item Number by December 31, 2012. The FDA has not backed either option, but has concentrated more on the concept of developing a Unique Device Identification (UDI) system for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

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